Wednesday

The Cults and the Weirdos

Part of being in the church insurance business was dealing with every kind of church, including many which were pretty much cults. There are a lot of strange beliefs out there and we insured them all. As an evangelical Christian I always felt a little weird going into those places, and one thing that surprised me was the way the company handled group insurance programs for those churches.

In Southern California we did not have group discount programs, voluntary or mandatory, for most of the mainstream denominations. We didn't have a Southern Baptist program, a Nazarene program, a Methodist program, an Evangelical Lutheran program, a Presbyterian program, etc. However, we did have discount programs for Unitarian Universalists, Unity Churches, Religious Science, Christian Science, Apostolic Assembly, and a number of other offbeat denominations. If you ran a cult, we probably had a discount program for you that would save you money on your insurance, but if you had a mainstream church, good luck.

I remember going to a Unity Church one time and the administrator gave me his card. I wish I still had it because it pretty much demonstrated what's wrong with most of these churches. The church's motto was "One God, Many Paths", and the logo looked like they'd taken the symbols for all the major world religions and had thrown them in a blender. It had a Christian cross, a Jewish Star of David, a Muslim Crescent, and several other symbols of world religions. I can't tell you how many times I wanted to look him right in the eye and ask him how he explains John 14:6-
Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. (KJV)
I never did since insurance is a business and not a ministry, but it was tempting.

I only insured two Muslim groups during my years in the business, and one of them was a large mosque in San Diego that left our company the year before the 9/11 attacks. It was reported later that some of the 9/11 attackers had attended that mosque for awhile, and following the attacks I read about reports of vandalism at that mosque.

I remember having meetings at the mosque a couple of times, and I've never felt more out-of-place than I did in those mosques. The men glared at me like the infidel I was, and entering through their doors was like taking a time machine back hundreds of years and half a world away. It wasn't a pleasant experience.

I also handled several Buddhist temples. Nice people, but way out there in their beliefs. One of the churches had over $1.5 million in gold statues and icons in their sanctuary area. The building itself was old and pretty dumpy but when you walked into that sanctuary you thought you'd entered the vault at Fort Knox. That valuation was made several years ago when gold was around $350 an ounce. I'd hate to think what all that would be worth today.

My favorite (with tongue firmly in cheek) group program was for a Hispanic denomination based in Southern California that was granted a 7.5% discount for all their member churches. Most of the churches were in bad shape (the congregants were often low income), they rarely remembered to pay their premiums and many of them were canceled for non-payment time and again, and yet we gave them a discount that the nice Southern Baptist church down the street couldn't have. It never made sense to me. Without that group program many of their churches probably wouldn't have met the underwriting requirements due to the condition of their buildings or their history of non-payment problems.

The topper was when the District Superintendent in San Diego County decided to ignore his denominational headquarters and struck his own insurance deal with a competitor of ours. He then encouraged his churches to leave our company for the competitor as soon as their next premium was due. What a nice payback for the big group discount program. That was money well spent.

The Religious Science, Christian Science, and many of the Unitarian or Unity churches all had one thing in common (besides a nutty theology) - they're dying. The membership of most of those churches that I dealt with was made up of people with an average age of 75. Members in their 60's (if they had any) were part of the youth group. These churches are barely hanging on and since they seem to be unable to attract the young families needed to sustain a church, many of them will disappear in the next 10 years or so.

However, even meeting in a mainstream church could be a weird experience. I had a meeting one day at a very conservative Baptist church in San Diego. The pastor was wearing a black suit, white shirt, and had a very short haircut. After our meeting he asked me if I was a Christian. I told him I was and he asked what church I attended. When I told him I attended Saddleback Church he turned a little whiter (if that was possible) and started grabbing for gospel tracts. Saddleback clearly didn't meet with his requirements for Christianity and he was determined to get me "saved". I'm not sure how I made it out of there without being dunked in his baptistry.

Bottom line - if you want to get to heaven, embrace the faith of an evangelical Christian church. If you want a discount on your church insurance (at least from my old company), join a cult.

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